One person's entertainment can be baffling, annoying or distressful to another


April 01, 2007|By JANET GILBERT

I am suspicious of clowns.

First of all, they don't say anything, ever. We're supposed to guess what they're trying to communicate - and yet their makeup frequently belies their true emotions. What's more, their costumes seem to be designed to obscure faces and genders.

I don't think I have coulrophobia, which is the intense fear of clowns, because I can be in the presence of clowns. I am just more baffled by their appeal, and perhaps even a little bored by them.

Great. Now a convention of clowns is going to descend upon me to prove they are neither baffling nor boring. Maybe I haven't been exposed to exceptional clowns - I'll admit that's a possibility. I suppose if we consider the performers in Cirque du Soleil and the Blue Man Group clown-cousins, well, I'd have to reconsider. But as far as circus or birthday clowns go - frankly, I just don't get it.

I was a different kind of kid, more likely to be surprised and thrilled if a Kabuki actor or someone dressed as Brunhilde showed up at my birthday party. I guess I was destined to be the lone, bespectacled 6-year-old sitting on the bleachers at the circus, confused about why outcomes I could predict a mile away were supposed to be uproariously funny. The big clown is going to ride the teeny bicycle and fall off. The downtrodden clown is going to get a bucket of water dumped on his head. Some clown is ultimately going to get shot out of a cannon.

People around me would be laughing hysterically, holding up their little children to see the clowns. I was unmoved.

But there are a lot of things that the general public finds amusing that I find oddly disturbing.

For example, there is a particular stretch of U.S. 40 up by the Beltway that I don't like to drive because of the gyrating tubular windsock giants, wildly undulating and gesticulating as I pass.

Who likes these things? They give me an eerie feeling. It's like someone temporarily animated Edvard Munch's The Scream.

The windsock giants demand attention; they appear to breathe and move, albeit in an otherworldly way. They jerk upright and twist to point at you, then whip around and falter, collapsing on the ground until the next stiff breeze. They seem to be desperately trying to communicate something - I think they might be in some sort of grave danger. They want to get away, but tragically, they are resigned to live tethered to the auto showroom or the carpet outlet.

Another scary icon on U.S. 40 never fails to alarm me - the "King" on the sign outside the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center - not to be confused with the Charmed Woodland Shopping Center or the Magical Jungle Shopping Center. Next time you're in the area, take a good look at this bizarre little man. He is precisely the sort I would tell my children to steer clear of, with his peculiar, leering expression. I'm all for saving the Enchanted Forest, but the King must go.

I think I'm going to write a horror-film screenplay, where Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the artists who conceived of "The Gates" in New York's Central Park, decide to do their next piece in Howard County, featuring windsock giants. They install them outside major gathering places, such as athletic fields, grocery stores, schools, and my office at The Sun - the Starbucks on U.S. 40.

But at night, the windsock figures rip themselves off of their tie-downs and turn into - you guessed it - clowns! Led by the Enchanted Forest King, they round us all up into Centennial Park and pull paper flower arrangements from our sleeves, squirt us with trick watches and twist balloons into poodles until we are one severely amused yet agitated county.

Now that's my idea of scary.

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